ASHLAND — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said his Saturday tour of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument reveals that "a lot of the use is heavy recreation," but he stopped short of saying some of those lands should be downgraded from monument status.
In the midst of reviewing whether 27 national monuments are appropriately sized and created under the Antiquities Act, Zinke said that some lands now within national monument boundaries are "better suited" under National Recreation Area status.
Various uses within national recreation areas are determined by the language written to create them and could allow commercial logging, which is banned in monument lands.
While Zinke already has recommended National Recreation Area status for some new monument lands in Utah, he said if he recommends any border alterations in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, doing so would have to protect the land's unique biodiversity that led to the monument designation.
"Generally I think you have to go to science on what objects, and in this case biodiversity, so let's look at what that means and how do we protect it," Zinke said during a brief Saturday news conference along the shore of Hyatt Lake that included comments by U.S. Rep. Greg Walden. "This site is unique among the 27 sites I'm reviewing, not just because it's in Oregon."
Sign-wielding protesters from both sides also attended the news conference in the parking lot outside the Hyatt Lake Resort.
Zinke is looking specifically into whether the monument lands are the smallest necessary to protect the land or objects they are designed to protect, whether the lands are appropriately classified as of historic or scientific interest, and their impact on multiple-use.
The review also includes looking into the economic impacts of monument status and whether the federal government can properly manage those lands.
During the first day of his two-day tour here, Zinke hiked the Greensprings loop trail with members of the federal Bureau of Land Management, which manages the monument. Along the way, he met and chatted with some monument supporters and later met with members of a snowmobile users group.
He is scheduled Sunday to meet with members of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council and Chairman Dave Willis. Willis and others successfully sought monument expansion in the waning hours of Barack Obama's presidency using, in part, a scientific study that called for monument expansion to protect its unique biodiversity from threats, including climate change.
Zinke is also scheduled to meet with Gov. Kate Brown after she takes an early-morning horseback tour of part of the wilderness with Willis.
Zinke said he met with ranchers, timberland managers and other longtime users of the lands here before President Bill Clinton created the monument in 2000.
"There are traditions here that I think are worth looking at so the monument doesn't have some unintended consequences," Zinke said.
"I also saw some really passionate people who love the monument the way it is and probably want it expanded," Zinke said. "That's a legitimate view."
Meghan Kissell, of the Colorado-based Conservation Lands Foundation, criticized Zinke's itinerary as "fairly lopsided" in favor of anti-monument voices.
"I just don't want to see some other user groups used for political optics," said Kissell, who is following Zinke's monument tours. "Is he really listening equally to all sides?"
If any lands within the 27 monuments under review have altered boundaries, those lands would remain under federal ownership and not sold.
The monuments were all created by presidential decree as spelled out in the Antiquities Act, which allows presidents to designate monuments without public comment.
The Antiquities Act provides no language for presidents to remove monument designation, and no president has attempted to do so under the 101-year-old act. As for recession of a monument, "the law is unclear either way" if a president has that power, Zinke said.
Congress, however, can vote to alter monument boundaries.
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum already has threatened "appropriate legal action" should the Trump administration attempt to reduce the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument's size.
The public comment period on the issue ended Monday, with more than 2 million comments collected by the Interior Department online and thousands more via traditional mail, Zinke said.
With January's expansion, the monument is 113,013 acres within a 137,500-acre footprint, and any monument restrictions don't apply on private lands within that footprint.
Monument lands are open to the public, but how people access lands, such as by vehicles, can be restricted based on travel-management plans.